These last couple of weeks a topic which keeps coming up in both my personal and professional life is compassion fatigue. The first time I learned about this was sitting in a Certified Addiction Counselor (CAC) class in May 2017. I was overwhelmed and questioning if I was in the correct field. I found myself thinking about quitting everything and just walking away from the work that means so much to me.
When we started talking about compassion fatigue, I was flooded with emotions and a sense of relief. The relief came from understanding what I was experiencing, but also from knowing there is something I can do to combat it. These feelings that I should just walk away from my work were not coming from a place of being incapable of doing the work. Instead, it was quite the opposite! In fact, they were coming from a place of burning the candle not only at both ends, but in the middle as well. I wasn’t aware of the amount of time being devoted to work. I was always saying yes and taking on more work because it was so hard for me to say no when anyone asked for help. As a result, I was working myself to the bone and felt like nothing I did was good enough or making a difference to those I was trying to serve. I wanted to quit.
However, it was a relief to me to know my feelings were coming from a place of working too hard and not from a place of having made a horrible career choice. Learning that compassion fatigue is something I can change by making different choices allowed me to feel empowered to take charge of my life instead of allowing myself to be run by it. This means knowing when the crisis is mine to be handled and when my being involved in handling the crisis will not serve me or anyone else.
Over the last few months I’ve worked hard to keep my life in balance. Balance is a weird concept because so often we think of it as a ballerina standing en-pointe, but true balance is the tree that bends and sways in the storm without breaking and returns to center.
I love the example of the tree because it serves to remind me that a balanced life isn’t something I do perfectly but is the ability to return to center after being pulled too far in any one direction. There are still days when I work too much and am going full speed from 9 am to 11 pm. The biggest difference is that now those crazy days are generally followed up with self-care and time with friends. I may have to wait until the weekend to get the time with friends, but I can incorporate self-care daily, which means being able to keep my cup from running dry.
The thing about working in the mental health field is that we have to remember the importance of taking time away from work, of not bringing work home, and the importance of taking the time to relax. As people that are helping others, we have to remember to take care of ourselves in order to be able to effectively help our clients.
I talk to my clients and residents all the time about self-care and how important it is to make time in their schedules. Now it’s time to keep putting what I preach into practice.
About Kerrie: I graduated from Georgia State University in 2004 earning a BA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing focused on Poetry. I've always enjoyed writing and the way words can be used to create "paintings" in the minds of readers.